Alcohol Consumption and Breast Cancer in Women

Scientific advancements have provided us with more knowledge regarding risks and various cancers. Although heredity factors and age are often acknowledged as a risk factors to breast cancer, one risk that is not discussed often enough is the risk associated with alcohol consumption. Do you know how many alcoholic drinks you should have in one day? Many Americans don’t – but I’m here to help! Knowledge is power!

An Informative New Study

In a newly published study by Meyer et al. (2019), women in Australia were interviewed regarding the risks of alcohol. The study questioned women between the ages of 45 and 64 who had never had cancer. These women were more aware of alcohol’s effects on mental health, weight, and relationships, as well as pregnancy complications and liver disease, than its associated risk with cancer.

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Emma Miller, was quoted by Flinders University stating, “There is a low level of awareness about the established link between alcohol and breast cancer, and some confusion about the risk given the community perception that not all drinkers get breast cancer.” She went on to acknowledge, “Alcohol is firmly entrenched in the fabric of Australian society, providing pleasure and defining the major events in most of our lives.”

How Much Alcohol Should We Consume?

Although the study from Meyer et al. (2019) was conducted in Australia, it is likely a reflection of alcohol use for women in other countries, including the United States. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 states, “If alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.”

Serving size is important, especially in the age of craft beers and other alcoholic beverages with higher alcohol contents. A typical drink contains 5% alcohol for a 12 ounce beer, beer cooler, or malt beverage, 12% alcohol for a 5 ounce glass of wine, and 40% alcohol (80 proof) for a 1.5 ounce distilled spirit.

Dr. Miller also acknowledged the pervasiveness of alcohol in our lives, “We all want to hear good news about drinking, such as small amounts of red wine may be good for cardiovascular disease, which is a message that’s promoted by the alcohol industry.” She also noted how, “In contrast, information that alcohol is linked to breast cancer is actively suppressed by the industry presumably in order to build the female customer base.”

The Risks of Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol is only one risk factor, with age as being the most focused on, as most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for women in the United States, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer, aside from skin cancers.

Breast cancer obviously has risk factors that can be outside of your control including age, genetics, family history, and personal medical history. You can, however, control how much alcohol you consume – and any amount of alcohol can create an increased risk of breast cancer. Other factors you can control include physical activity and excess body weight. If you’re concerned with your alcohol consumption, counseling may be a beneficial service to you. Being open with your providers, whether that by your primary care physician or otherwise, may open up your opportunities to engage in early intervention or even prevention of cancer or other medical concerns.

References:

Breast Cancer. (2018, May 29). In Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/index.htm


Meyer, S. B., Foley, K., Olver, I., Ward, P. R., McNaughton, D., Mwanri, L., & Miller, E. R. (2019, February 13). Alcohol and breast cancer risk: Middle-aged women’s logic and recommendations for reducing consumption in Australia. PLos ONE, 14(2). Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0211293

newsdesk. (2019, February 14). Women ignoring cancer-alcohol risk: study. In Flinders University News. Retrieved from https://news.flinders.edu.au/blog/2019/02/14/women-ignoring-cancer-alcohol-risk-study/